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The Ephemerality of Literary Journals

(First of all, am I the only one who can’t seem to get enough of the word ephemeral? It kind of rolls off the tongue. Never gets old—which, in fact, makes the word heterological, that is, the opposite of itself! But I digress.)

I wrote a while ago about what I look for in literary journals—specifically newer and smaller journals—before I add them to my database (read the post here). I check things like website appearance, masthead quality (and existence!), possible support from outside entities (such as universities), clear and sensible submission guidelines, social media presence, activity with anthologies, and so on. I’m sure I’ve avoided adding dozens and dozens (maybe millions) of journals that were once breathing but are now belly-up.

But here’s the truth: any literary journal, no matter how successfully it passes all of my tests, is at risk of collapse.

Since I started Submitit two and a half years ago, I’ve laid over a hundred journals to rest. And not only newer and smaller journals; I’ve seen dozens of very solid journals disappear over the years, ones like Glimmer Train, Natural Bridge, Western Humanities Review, The Rupture, Jellyfish Review, Catapult Magazine, Waxwing, Gettysburg Review (as of last week, as I write this), and trust me, I could keep going.

As you know, at Submitit we submit in two rounds. The risk of a journal going defunct is even more heightened when we move past the more stable first-round journals. For example, one of our writers had a story published in a second-round journal a year or so ago, and now that journal is defunct. (For the record, two of my first published stories found homes in journals that are no longer with us.) The consolation, however—and I think this is important—is that we’ll always have the publication on our resume. That’s not nothing, especially if the journal was one with some repute. (Plus, if the story is truly lost to prying internet eyes, you can probably re-submit it, if you’d like. Many writers do this. True, it’s kind of a white lie (most journals ask for fresh work), but I won’t tell.)

So what does this all mean for writers who use Submitit? A few things:

  • Please understand that while we do our best, we can’t guarantee that the journals we submit to will last forever. The very nature of the literary journal universe is one of relative instability (let us say: ephemerality). This is, simply and sadly, part of the game.

  • If a first-round journal goes defunct before we get to the second round, we will add a replacement journal to the second round.

  • If a second-round journal goes defunct within three months of submissions, we’ll submit to a replacement journal upon request.

Let’s all hope and imagine a world where there are so many exuberant readers of literary journals that these journals all thrive in perpetuity. But until that magical day, we’ll do the best we can.


Erik Harper Klass is the founder of Submitit, the WORLD’S FIRST full-service submissions and editing company. He has published stories and essays in a variety of journals, including New England Review, Yemassee, Blood Orange Review, Slippery Elm, Summerset Review, and many others, and he has been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes. He has a novella forthcoming from Buttonhook Press.

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